The Internet is the new meat market for gay men. Now a killer is turning the meat market into a meat wagon.
One by one, he’s killing them. Lurking in the digital underworld of Men4HookUpNow.com, he lures, seduces, and charms, reaching out through instant messages to the unwary. When the first body surfaces, openly gay Chicago Police Department detective Ed Comparetto is called in to investigate. At the scene, the young man who discovered the body tells him the story of how he found his friend. But did this witness play a bigger role in the murder than he’s letting on?
For Comparetto, this encounter is the beginning of a nightmare—because this witness did more than just show up at the scene of the crime; he set the scene.
Comparetto is on a journey to discover the truth—before he loses his career, his boyfriend, his sanity… his life. Because in this killer's world, IM doesn't stand for instant message… it stands for instant murder.
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Read an Excerpt
When Tony logged on to the Men4HookUpNow website, he didn't know that this would the last time he would type in his screen name and password, the last time he would scroll through thumbnail-sized pictures of men in various states of undress, or the last time he would read an instant message.
Tony didn't know that logging on to Men4HookUpNow.com would be one of the last things he would do.
The simple blue and white instant message box was a blank canvas, containing only a list of provocative screen names: musclestud, pnpjock, pozpup4u ... And any one of these screen names could spring to life by sending Tony an instant message, or, as everyone called them, an IM. Anyone could arrive within its simple frame: a college football player, a construction worker, a truck driver, or just a man in tight jeans and engineer boots.
There was a pinging sound, and a message appeared on the screen. Tony leaned forward to see who had come to call.
And whoosh, a real man came through cyberspace, delivered like a gift. The box held only one word, "hi," yet Tony felt its author could see through his monitor, see him there in his living room wearing only a pair of boxer shorts, see the porno playing on his TV screen.
"Come on, man," Tony whispered, fingers poised above the keyboard. "Hi? Can't you do better than that?" He wanted someone with a bit more personality this languid August night, so he hit the Delete key and banished the guy into limbo, where someone else might take his "hi" with a little more encouragement. Tony began a scroll through the "Available Now" guys, reading the inane descriptions ("Let this hot, beefy muscle boyserve you. I'm 6'2" red hair, green eyes, former All-American football player;" "Aggressive bottom looking for well-endowed top men. I'm into just about everything except for scat and I know how to take orders;" "looking to party with a hot stud;" "straight-appearing and acting;" "Negative ... UB2") and stopping if one of the thumbnails caught his eye, especially if the guy had the courage to show his face.
Tony idly stroked himself as the images paraded past. He asked himself why he was bothering with going online. For Christ's sakes, here it was, Saturday night. Couldn't he throw on some jeans and head down to Halsted Street? At least in a bar, he would know for sure what the guy looked like if they decided to hook up (rather than seeing a cock shot and hoping the guy had a nice face, or trusting a face pic a decade old). This way, all he had to work with was exaggeration, living in a world where "stocky and football player build" meant fat, where 38-year-olds tried to pass as 29, where any bald guy could lay claim to looking like Bruce Willis, where average meant so hideous you might as well hide under a rock.
The instant message box popped up.
"Hey, what's up?"
Well, at least better than "hi."
Tony keyed in: "Just real horny. Looking to hook up." If the horny part weren't so true, Tony wouldn't have been able to keep himself from laughing. Trying to put a macho façade on his typed words, trying to make himself sound like he had an eighth-grade education, made him feel idiotic. A queer Stanley Kowalski.
"Know what you mean, dude."
So the guy was playing the macho game with him.
"So, man, what do you look like?"
"24. Black. Blue. Nice lean muscular build, work out about 3 or 4 times a week. Nicely defined pecs. Good tan. Hairy chest. 8 inches cut, real thick. You?"
Tony felt himself transported. It was like the guy got into his head, reading the ingredients for his perfect fantasy man. His dick started to rise with anticipation and he found his hand moving up and down the length of it, almost of its own accord. He clicked on the instant messenger list, on the guy's screen name, "jock4play" and was disappointed to see no pictures in his profile. Still, if the description was accurate ... Tony typed in: "Yeah, I'm 28. I've got dark blond hair, green eyes, moustache, goatee. Smooth swimmer's build. Work out a lot, too. Um. Got about seven, cut, shaved balls. Check out my pics."
"You a top or bottom?" There wasn't even a pause, so Tony wondered if the guy had bothered to look.
"Pretty open. I pretty much like it all. Pretty versatile. How about you? What are you into?"
"I'm a top, dude. Lookin' for a good bottom boy."
"I can do that."
"Sure. Whereabouts are you, man?"
"Yeah, me too. I'm in Rogers Park, Touhy and Ashland."
"I'm not too far from you."
Tony swallowed his common sense as the image of his fantasy man took over. "You wanna come over?"
"You like to party?"
"Yeah." Tony loved little more than getting high and getting down. "Tina's here." Tony eyed the little glass pipe, its bottom crusted with black residue and white powder. His nerves--right along with his libido--were in overdrive.
"Hmmm. I could be interested."
Tony looked briefly at the TV, where a hairy-chested drill sergeant had a lithe blond "private" bent over his desk. He wanted to get things moving, so he typed: "You wanna call me?"
"555-7654; it's my cell. Call me right back. Okay?" Was that too pushy? Many times, they never bothered to call. Many times, they said they would show up and never did. But once in a while, it all came together.
His cell chirped. He flipped it open. "Hey."
"What's goin' on, dude?"
"God, I just need some dick. You interested in hookin' up, man?"
"The sooner the better."
"Got somethin' to write with?" And Tony got busy, giving precise directions to his apartment.
Precise directions to a stranger.
After he hung up, Tony felt flushed, a deep burning radiating from chest to face. His heart pounded as if he had just done a big hit of poppers. God, the guy sounded incredible! He suddenly knew why he was doing this as opposed to going out to a bar. When the site worked, it worked. There was no bullshit, no game playing. No eye contact for an hour, no fumbling for something to say and then sounding like a dork. When it worked with the site, it was simply two lusting men getting together and pleasuring each other. They didn't need to say a word. Then why not a bathhouse? Tony asked himself, wandering around the apartment, folding up newspapers and throwing magazines in the wicker basket he stored them in. He remembered Man Universe and the last time he was there. It was okay, he guessed; there wasn't the usual amount of bullshit. He thought with a grin of the open doors and the guys lying within, naked on their stomachs, the white moons of their asses a focal point, the bottle of lube and poppers on the little table beside the bed. But the bathhouse lacked one thing the Men4HookUpNow offered: the element of surprise. Having someone show up after making an online connection, there was always that breathless moment when you opened the door to see what you were getting. Even if you had seen photos, it was always a crap shoot. A grab bag. And that's what made it so exciting. The gamble made the rewards all the sweeter. And, hey, if you lost one time, you just said "sorry," closed the door, and got back online.
There was no shortage of hot guys online.
Or at least adequate ones.
Tony glanced at himself as he passed the mirror in his dining room, grateful he had worked out earlier in the day, grateful for the fact that he never had to exaggerate. His blond hair was buzzed and his muscles had good definition. His lips were slightly pouty, giving his face an aura of innocence defiled ... details in his face combined to form a very pleasing contradiction. Sleazy and at the same time babyish, childlike.
Tony never lacked for admirers.
And sometimes, he wished he did. He thought of him, the asshole who was always around, the one who, after three dates, couldn't handle his request to be just friends.
But think of that another time! A party was coming up. And Tony wanted to make sure this party was of the all-night variety.
He headed for the kitchen, to take the poppers out of the freezer. He held the little brown glass bottle up to the light and shook it; it was about at the halfway point, certainly enough to see him through the evening.
In the bedroom, he placed a couple of towels on the nightstand, along with a bottle of Wet. In the portable CD player, he put in Delirium (great fuck music) and made sure the votive candles were adequate enough to burn for the hours he planned on taking with this guy, if he was as good as he sounded.
Tony turned to the mirror once more, running his hand through the blond spikes, making them stand on end. He flexed his biceps and was pleased at the image the mirror threw back.
He reached in his dresser drawer, pulled out his metal cock ring, and slid it over his dick and balls. He strapped a metal band with studs around his right arm "Perfect," he whispered to his grinning reflection.
Blood pounded in his ears. A line of sweat formed at his hairline and under his arms.
He couldn't wait.
The buzzer sounded.
Tony walked slowly to the intercom box in the front hallway, not wanting to appear too eager. Desperation was never pretty.
It sounded once more before he placed his hand on the talk button. "Yeah?"
"It's your buddy from online."
Tony pressed the button marked "door" and then the one marked "listen" so he could hear the guy coming in. He hoped he wouldn't be disappointed.
It was hard to tell, but the guy's voice didn't sound quite as deep as he thought it had when the guy called his cell. Perhaps the intercom was just distorting his voice a bit.
But there was something else. No, it couldn't be ... but the voice had a familiar cast to it. Tony wondered when the day would come when he ran into someone he knew from Men4HookUpNow.
Perhaps the day was today.
But the familiarity of the voice didn't have pleasant associations.
Imagination. Tony, bud, you're imagining things.
Anyway, there was no time to think about that now, not with the guy tapping on his door.
Tony peered through the peephole.
And saw nothing.
He didn't like that. But the guy was probably standing to the left or right of the hole, that's all. Good sense deserted Tony, usurped by lust.
He opened the door and the color drained from his face. "What the hell are you doing here?"
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A serial killer has been making the rounds of Chicago, using a gay hook-up site to find his victims, and openly gay police office Ed Comparetto is called in to investigate. Things start to go wrong when the claim of a false witness statement forces Comparetto to reluctantly turn in his badge. To clear his name and possibly to get his job back, Comparetto starts his own investigation into the grisly murders, wondering just who that mysterious witness was and what he has to do with the growing number of murders.A promising idea for a story from author Rick R. Reed, but something just didn't click for me. All the characters seemed to overact, coming across as overly melodramatic, and I never found myself caring for any of them. Many times the characters even came across as clichéd: the gay cop who's booted from the force for being open with his sexuality and determined to find the killer to get his good name back; the self-loathing serial killer who (surprise) turns out to be gay. And for a former police officer, Comparetto has a knack for not assessing a situation before jumping in, and I found it difficult to believe that he had been good at his job.Some of the scenes, though, were very vivid and well-drawn, such as one of the killer's flashbacks concerning what drove him to kill. Effective and creepy, my skin crawled as I read it. I also liked the victim vignettes, giving a glimpse into the different personalities who use the hook-up site -- everyday men, looking for different ideas of love or a good time. And the little twist with the twins just added another good creep factor to a sometimes predictable story.
IM is one of those rare books that scared the bejeezus out of me, to the point that I had to put the book down. A few days later, I was drawn back to the book 'like a moth to a flame.' The story moves quickly, switching seamlessly between several points of view - Ed Comparetto the detective, the victims, the bystanders and the killer. The third person narrative, switching to first person narrative with the murderer was intensely effective. Downright creepy! The mystery unfolds in many layers, shifting in time, twisting and turning to the heart-pounding end. Once everything is revealed, Reed isn't done with us yet the story continuing through one final confrontation between Comparetto and the killer. At first, when I read the 'blurb' on the back of the book I was slightly disappointed that so much was given away, but I soon realized that was only the beginning of something so much more. The blurb was like a plot device in itself. I also felt the ending left something unresolved, but once my heart rate returned to normal, the ending made perfect sense - Comparetto was where he wanted to be. Detective Ed Comparetto is an appealing character, a dedicated cop that still feels compassion and remorse for the victims. He isn't one of those wise-cracking police detectives, spewing out one-liners like some 'has been' stand-up comedian. When Comparetto enters the first murder scene, he's feeling unsettled and apprehensive, oppressed with 'what's behind door number one' type of feeling. He hides his true emotions well, slipping into that professional cop-mode, feeling the need to prove himself to those out there that are just waiting for him to 'slip-up.' His professional life is already threatened after a recent 'public' outing. Ed's a humanly portrayed character, with all his human flaws and human weaknesses. In other words, he's not an arrogantly perfect macho man. And this is not meant to be a negative reflection on Ed's sexual orientation. It is wholeheartedly meant as a compliment. I really got into Ed's character, his motivations and toward the end -- his fear. I loved Ed's lover, Peter. The two meet for the first time in a library where Peter worked, when Ed was researching a lead. Peter's like a breath of fresh air in the story, pursuing Ed with an amusing single-minded determination. He's a lot like Nick's Nora (The Thin Man Series), helping Ed investigate and sort out the conflicting clues. A real partner in and out of bed. I would have loved to see more of Peter. Peter begins to have second doubts about their relationship, when Ed starts to become obsessive about the case. For Ed it's more than just finding the killer, it has become something personal. And that's something Peter needs to figure out. The book should have Nightmare Warnings, because I sure as heck had 'em! I liked Reed's use of descriptive phrases to set the proper mood like, 'the gallery of ghouls,' to described the assembled investigation team at the first murder. I thought the plot became a little 'out there' with certain elements, but I realized that was just the type of book I was reading. I just suspended my mundane imagination a little and enjoyed the nightmare ... I mean the story.
Timothy Bright grew up being cared for by an Aunt, and sexually abused by her sadistic boyfriend, leaving him an extremely bitter and troubled man, self-loathing in his own homosexuality. Incapable of a normal relationship with anyone, he contacts other men for anonymous sexual encounters on a website called Men4HookUpNow.Com. Once they meet, Timothy attacks and brutally murders them, leaving a trail of unexplained sadistic killings to be solved by the Chicago Police. Ed Comparetto, a openly-gay rookie police detective who knows he must prove himself, was assigned to one of the earlier murder cases, hoping his sexuality might give him some insight into the case. At the scene, he interviews and comforts the slight young man who said he was a neighbor and friend of the victim, and who called 911 after finding the body. When Ed's superiors check out his report, find that none of the information he got checks out, and the name the man supposed gave him - Timothy Bright - is on record as having died several years earlier, Ed is suspended from the force, allegedly for falsifying the report. So begins a twisting and highly engrossing superb murder mystery, which will be especially frightening to many gay men since the territory (gay 'hook up' websites, gay clubs, inner city 'gayborhoods') is familiar, and the villain has more than a passing physical and M.O. resemblance to real-life sicko Jeffrey Dahmer ... thankfully without the latter's culinary peculiarity. Reed skillfully provides background information on Bright through diary entries from his aunt, and keeps the character simultaneously engaging and absolutely frightening in every way. Ed's suspension from the police force gives Reed the freedom to make this more of a personal battle for the young detective, who not only wants to catch this killer but to put himself back in a favorable light with his commander. The book is decidedly gory in parts, which I consider necessary in order to convey just how psychotic Bright is, making it clear he'll do anything to carry out his imagined vendetta against other gay men. Ultimately, others from Bright's past become the focus of his deranged actions, and Ed has to try to rescue his boyfriend from Bright's clutches. A well-written, thoroughly enjoyable, and absolutely terrifying novel, which I recommend highly. I give it five stars out of five.